I’ve posted about my hometown before, and you may or may not know that my feelings about it are not very positive. But I’ve finally drawn an analogy that left me feeling quite sympathetic. Far Rockaway is like a beautiful child who, through years of abuse has turned into an abusive parent. What drove this home is the following video, sent to me by my brother-in-law, Mike.

Thank you Ben Budick for this song, and Skip Weinstock for the slide/video show.

So, I’m going to let my thoughts on this town flow here for a bit.

Many years ago, The Rockaways were a beach paradise. They were in the shadow of Coney Island’s attractions, perhaps, but beautiful nonetheless. I am reminded periodically of this, like when we were walking the halls of Disney’s Boardwalk Resort and saw vintage pictures of Far Rockaway framed on the walls in the elevator lobby.

The problems came about when legislation was proposed to allow casinos in the area. A great deal of land became tied up waiting for casinos to come through, and eventually low-income housing projects were put up on that land. If I understand correctly, the Long Island Railroad line was split and the western link became the “A” train subway (elevated through the Rockaways). The local streets, at one time lined with beachfront bungalows, went abandoned. Houses were replaced by buildings.

When I was very little, I remember concession stands in Far Rockaway (furthest from NYC and Brooklyn) and Mom offering me a taste of a knish (“ewww!!” at the time). My memories of Rockaway’s Playland amusement park are a bit more recent and clear. I may be combining two stories here, but I remember my mother talking about riding the roller coaster there repeatedly, as they were giving out free rides while filming a Cinerama film. The growing pain in her stomach was, unbeknownst to her, appendicitis. I grew up through Playland’s downfall. As I got older, parts shut down, and I remember coming to realize it was “not a very nice place” as time went on. Still, when I heard it closed and another beachfront vintage rollercoaster was leveled, it saddened me.

My sister, when she was dating my brother-in-law, drove through “the crack capitol of the world” which lay between our area and his. One night, a cop approached her at a red light and told her not to wait for green lights anymore. “No cop would ticket you for running lights here.”

There are still a lot of good neighborhoods in the Rockaways. And there are lots of good people holding on and working to keep it nice. I can see this by those who are still living in my old neighborhood when I go back. I am also certain that throughout those rough areas there are lots of good people just trying to get by. I take my hat off to all of you. But do not confuse my respect for optimism about the town’s prospects.

The casinos never came. And the beaches are there for the residents, but not welcoming to outsiders. Many people who live there make the trek to Jones Beach instead of the short trip to the local beach.

Miss Rockaway
A picture taken by my dad of a mural commemorating Rockaway’s Playland.

I don’t miss the place I grew up. But I miss the people, and I somehow miss a place I never knew. That I caught an occasional glimpse of as it faded away. That I see in memories of others, as recorded in the video above.